On web anonymity

It may not have escaped your notice that this blog is semi-anonymous. The username I tend to go by, Sipech, is actually related to my real name, though I choose to not reveal it in full. Those that know me “in real life” may be aware of the blog, and I estimate that about 25% of those of you who are reading this have met me. But for the rest of you, does it matter that you can’t put associate my writings with a name or with a face?

This led me to think: are web users who choose to retain their anonymity less credible than those who don’t?

Prompted by this, I asked an open question on Twitter. Interestingly, all the responses I got were from users who, like me, opted to retain their anonymity. I don’t keep mine a particularly closely guarded secret. I’ve entered into email correspondence with some people, and my email address bears with it my real name. Part of the reason I choose to use a pseudonym is to distance my work life from my blog.

On the one hand, someone who opts for anonymity may be perceived as hiding something in some way. On the other hand, though, I don’t see what is materially gained from knowing an individual’s identity in some way. There are exceptions, where a blogger may have specialist knowledge or access to information that the public in general wouldn’t have. In such a circumstance, the writer may meet with some scepticism (and rightly so, I believe) if it may be thought that they are making things up. There have been some notorious cases of bloggers who have faked their identity or where they have been ‘unmasked’ for various reasons.

What about those who choose to reveal their true identity? Do they (or you) think there is something to be gained by doing so, or is it an issue to which little thought is applied?

One experiment I had in mind would be for a well-known blogger to create a second blog and write anonymously. The content need not be significantly different. I think it would be interesting to see if the same content under an anonymous label would garner the same level of attention.

Of course, there are a number of other factors to consider in such an experiment, like how long it took for a particular blogger to gain a significant following. So it’s not an experiment that could be done a few weeks. Several months to a year may be a more reasonable estimate.

I don’t know the answer to these questions. I’m just throwing them out there. What do you think?

One response to “On web anonymity

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